Energy research

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Our energy research focused on two strands:

  1. Improving the energy efficiency of new and existing  homes. The less energy we need, even at the individual home level, the easier it will be to meet demand.
  2. Encouraging greater use of renewable energy – wood, pellets, solar hot water heating and electricity generation – in homes and neighbourhoods.

Energy efficiency and conservation go hand in hand with renewable energy. The use and development of a local renewable energy resource combined with its efficient use assists greater levels of resilience and results in direct links to health and social well-being (by providing warmer, drier homes and reduced energy costs to consumers). An efficient and effective renewable energy strategy can help to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants that are causing climate change.


Energy efficiency

Research tells us that New Zealand’s existing housing stock is substandard, especially when it comes to using energy efficiently to heat and run our homes. We know our homes are colder and damper than they need to be, but what we don’t know is the level of intervention required to bring our homes up to the benchmarks sent in Beacon’s HSS High Standard of Sustainability®.

The design and construction of our homes and neighbourhoods has a significant impact on their energy efficiency. Improving our homes’ performance can reduce homeowners’ power bills and make them more comfortable, as well as benefitting the country at a national level.

Beacon’s National Value Case for Sustainable Housing Innovations found that improving the energy efficiency of homes New Zealand-wide would:

  • save almost 22 petajoules per year – enough to power 500,000 New Zealand homes for a year
  • reduce CO2 emissions by 3600 kilotonnes per year
  • and, combined with water efficiency, save households collectively $2 billion per year.

Our energy efficiency research includes:

  • Showing it can be done: Beacon’s demonstration homes have shown that homes which use far less energy can be built today. Our first live research project – the Waitakere NOW Home® used 33 percent less electricity than an average home and 45% less electricity than the tenants’ previous home. This was a substantial saving for the family living in the home.  The New Zealand Housing Foundation’s HomeSmart Home used a very low 3980kWh per year and saved the homeowners approximately $1625 annually.  Equally the Papakowhai Renovation project is showing that existing homes can be renovated to much higher levels of energy efficiency, with one case study home saving 44% on previous electricity bills.
  • House typologies for energy retrofits: Beacon has developed a set of standard house types and analysed the retrofits needed to make them energy efficient.  Another report has gathered data on the prevalence of each typology by area in New Zealand.
  • Surveying consumer attitudes to energy efficiency: Two surveys looked at consumer attitudes to and understanding of the energy performance of their home.


Renewable energy

Beacon uses the terms ‘high grade’ and ‘low grade’ energy to describe what gets used in our homes.  High grade energy is energy that could be used to run a computer, DVD player or microwave oven. It must meet strict standards when delivered.  Electricity is the most commonly used high grade energy source in New Zealand for a variety of uses including space and water heating, which make up approximately 60% of the energy use within the home.   Given that the production of electricity is expensive, both from a generation and distribution perspective, it makes sense to reserve this type of energy for end uses specifically requiring it, and to look at low grade energy to satisfy space and water heating demand. Both of these energy uses are potentially easily undertaken using low grade, local renewable energy.

We believe there is potential to increase the proportion of energy supplied from local renewable sources, either at house level or at a community/neighbourhood scale. The advantage to homes of utilising local renewable energy is a greater resilience in the face of drought-driven electricity shortages and a reduction in the demand on our electricity infrastructure. Local renewable energy generation can advance and strengthen New Zealand’s energy system by complementing the current centralised energy system and making better use of the wealth of resources available in this country.

Local energy systems have the potential to displace as much as 16,000 GWh per year of electricity from large power stations in 30 years time, or much sooner if there is government support. This amount is more than the electricity consumed by the entire residential sector in 2005 (12,732 GWh).

Our renewable energy research includes:

  • Developing a framework to help consumers assess their sites for renewable energy
  • Reviewing the installation of solar water heaters in Beacon demonstration projects to identify best practice
  • Trialling renewable energy as part of Beacon demonstration projects

  • 11-Jan-2007 (Publication PR240/4)

    National Value Case for Sustainable Housing Innovations (PDF 2MB)

    Melony Clark

    This policy paper for Government presents the value case for intervening to bring New Zealand's housing up to the HSS High Standard of Sustainability®.  Based on the National Value Case report (PR240/3), it shows that simple housing interventions will bring benefits on a nationwide scale.